Church decries Jharkhand move to cut indigenous benefits

Light of truth

Christian leaders claim that India’s Jharkhand State aims to side-line poor indigenous people who have converted to Christianity.

The state’s legal officers on June 21 gave expert advice to the government that indigenous people who have converted to Christianity have lost their status to merit benefits that the Indian constitution guarantees for the social advancement of indigenous people. The Jharkhand government seems determined to end reservation benefits for those tribal people who have converted to Christianity or other religions, a newspaper says.

Benefits such as job quotas, places in educational institutions and financial assistance for education are reserved for indigenous people following traditional religions. Conversion to Christianity makes them ineligible, the experts told the government, according to local Hindi newspapers.

The move by the state government, run by the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), violates the principles of equality and freedom of religion, Christian leaders say.

“The constitution allowed such benefits for the socioeconomic uplift of these poor people. Their faith was not a criterion for this,” said Bishop Vincent Barwa of Simdega, chairman of the Indian bishops’ office for indigenous people.

Religion will become the basis to discriminate against people suffering disadvantages, the bishop said. It also sends a clear message that one should not change religion to Christianity, or change only to Hinduism, if one wants to enjoy state benefits, he said.

The hidden agenda is to target Christians because the government considers Christians the biggest threat as many are well educated and have begun questioning policies and programs, the Oraon tribal bishop said.
(See Focus)

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